USA's Interstate System

I heard it said that Eisenhower pushed for the need for an Interstate road system - esp. for military purposes - like the railroads were to WWII-era Germany.

Is this how the network of interstate highways came to be?

Think about I-95. A straight shot from Florida to Maine with exit ramps that can be easily closed to prevent civilian access. The deal was made that if taxpayers would fund it, then we could use it (and pay tolls on it) until it was needed to defend our eastern coast.

Kinda, sorta, but not exactly. The US interstate system was already underway when Ike took office. He wanted a system of roads in the US to match the German Autobahn, not the railroads. Defense was one consideration in expanding the interstates but far from the only consideration. It was used, arguably, as the ‘hammer’ to get increased federal funding.

Check here for all you ever wanted to know about creating the interstate system:

There is also a legal requirement for an interstate that every x miles it must be straight for y miles, supposedly to be able to use it as an emergency runway if need be.


Snopes says there is not airstrip requirement.

These guys also think there is no airstrip requirement.

I was told that congress justified the interstates by saying that they were the “postal roads” that the Constitution authorizes congress to create.

Cecil touches on this topic in this column:
How can there be interstate highways … in Hawaii?


I think the Commerce Clause is the authority.

It’s officially called The Dwight D. Eisnenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

The Interstate Highway system got its start with the 1938 Federal-Aid Highway Act which created something called the Bureau of Public Roads, which later became the Federal Highway Administration.

The BPR issued a report called “Toll Roads and Free Roads” and it determined that toll roads could never be self-supporting and the BPR called for a 26,700 mile toll-free highway system.

In 1941, FDR appointed another committee to study the issue. In 1944 a report entitled “Interregional Highways” called for 33,900 miles of rural routes and 5,000 miles of auxiliary urban routes.

Congress approved that report’s recommendation and then some. It approved up to 40,000 miles “so located as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable border points, routes of continental importance in … Canada and … Mexico.”

Routes were selected in 1947 (in conjunction with DOD), but funding wasn’t authorized until 1952 and then only $25 million for 1954 and 1955. In 1954 Ike got the amount upped to $175 million a year and we were up an running.

Nearly all of this is lifted almost verbatim from a DOT report issued in March of this year about the Interstate system.

I thought it was interesting.

Cecil covered this topic in this column. Live it, love it. :slight_smile: